Illinois football strengthens offensive line with transfer portal addition

Dec 30, 2019; Santa Clara, California, USA;  General view of the Illinois Fighting Illini helmet
Dec 30, 2019; Santa Clara, California, USA; General view of the Illinois Fighting Illini helmet / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois football is bringing a local kid back home via the transfer portal.

Bret Bielema has had a clear focus for the Illini this offseason. We need to win the trenches more often, and Bielema went out and secured multiple linemen in the first few weeks of the offseason.

Coming into Friday, the Illini had landed four linemen. Enyce Sledge and Anthony Johnson enter the program on the defensive line, and Kevin Wigenton and JC Davis are signing on to play on the Illinois offensive line.

Bielema isn’t done adding players to the offensive line either. On Friday night, the Illini were able to land transfer portal offensive lineman, Melvin Priestly.

Coming out of East St. Louis High School in Illinois, Priestly didn’t have a lot of recruiting attention. He was rated as a two-star recruit who was the No. 216 interior offensive lineman in the class of 2022. He was also the No. 63 player coming out of Illinois.

Priestly picked Grambling State as his landing spot. In 2023, Priestly played a ton of snaps. He tallied 655 snaps on the offensive line and finished with a grade of 62.8, which was good enough to rank No. 293 out of 628 tackles in the FCS and FBS combined.

Bret Bielema is building depth on the Illinois football offensive line through the transfer portal

Illinois’ offensive line was not good this past season. We averaged giving up 3.4 sacks per game, which ranked No. 117 out of 133 programs. In addition to the struggles, the Illini have lost bodies on the offensive line.

Both of the starting tackles, Julian Pearl and Isaiah Adams, are now gone. We also lost more depth with Jordan Slaughter graduating and Zachary Barlev transferring.

Bielema is reloading, though. Josh Kreutz is the staple of the offensive line. He will be starting at center. Illinois now has a lot of options around Kreutz. Dezmond Schuster, Zy Crisler, and Brandon Henderson, among others, are already on the roster and will be vying for a starting spot.

The Illini then added Wigenton and Davis, in addition to the recent addition of Priestly. My assumption is Davis is locked into a starting job. I think Wigenton will also snag a starting job. Priestly might have to fight for snaps, but I believe he will be, at worst, a primary backup. But knowing how the Illinois offensive line struggled in 2023, Priestly has a legitimate chance to start from day one.